This reading group guide forThe Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Bernie Su and Kate Rorick. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
By drawing on Jane Austen’s timeless novel, Bernie Su and Kate Rorick created a modern-day Pride and Prejudice with The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet. In her diary, Lizzie writes about a year of her life and her experiences making video blogs (vlogs) for her graduate thesis. From Netherfield to Pemberley and back again, Lizzie navigates the dangerous waters of social propriety and relationships in the twenty-first century—both on and off the Internet. What starts as a simple thesis idea becomes a way for Lizzie to inform and reflect upon her life and her sisters’ lives. With the unexpected success and popularity of her videos, Lizzie suddenly finds her vlogs and her life prominently displayed in the Internet’s public eye. But as personal and revealing as the videos are, Lizzie’s secret diary reveals her deepest anxieties and most private thoughts over the course of a dramatic year.
The book complements the popular website The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and its accompanying YouTube videos, which can be watched either in tandem or enjoyed separately.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice takes place in nineteenth-century English society, a world with strict and specific social parameters. How do the authors transfer the storyline to our modern world? Discuss how the authors make the Bennets’ circumstances contemporary.
2. As the story progresses, we hear Darcy’s description of his perfect woman: “Someone who is together” (p. 103). He then lists a set of ambitious qualities that are nearly impossible to locate all in one person. How does this list compare to Darcy’s description in Pride and Prejudice (below)?
A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved. All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
Do the authors modernize the qualities that Darcy looks for in a woman? If so, what is different? Which qualities do you think are essential for a well-rounded woman today? Are they different for a well-rounded man?
3. Mrs. Bennet tells Lizzie she is too idealistic, expecting everything in the world “to be as exact as it is in your head” (p. 141), and Lizzie admits this may be true in her diary. Do you think she grows into a more realistic adult by the end of the story? Why or why not?
4. Discuss Lizzie’s relationship with her parents. How do Mrs. Bennet’s priorities differ from Mr. Bennet’s? Do you think the Bennet parents understand their daughters? Give an example from the book.
5. Why does Lizzie refuse to settle for the job proposal Ricky Collins offers her? How does this proposal vary from the one he offers Elizabeth in Austen’s story?
6. Since many of the characters in the story also watch Lizzie’s videos, they quickly find out about any recent drama as well as how Lizzie reacts and feels about it. Charlotte reminds Lizzie that Caroline Lee “made sure she was seen as [Lizzie’s] friend on the videos” (p. 235). Does the characters’ information from the videos affect the plot? If so, discuss how the characters benefit from this information. Consider Caroline Lee, George Wickham, William Darcy, and Lydia Bennet.
7. In Victorian society, social status was based on family lineage and wealth; in this story, the elite may come from money, but they are also heavily involved in California’s technology bubble. Darcy’s Pemberley is a Google-like place rather than a large estate, and his aunt acts as a venture capitalist for Mr. Collins’s company. Discuss the relationship between the Victorian upper class and our contemporary technology companies. Consider how well this analogy works in the story.
8. Do you think Darcy was right to warn Bing away from making a hasty decision about Jane? How would you react if put in a similar position?
9. Lizzie tries to look out for both of her sisters but realizes too late that she has failed Lydia. After learning of the sex tape and watching Lydia’s videos, Lizzie realizes “that Lydia has never been told that she is loved exactly as she is” (p. 314). What lessons does Lizzie learn from this experience?
10. Like in Austen’s original, both Lizzie and Darcy are too proud for most of the book and hide behind their prejudices. How does each overcome his or her bias to give the other a chance?
11. At the end of the story, Lizzie finds out that Caroline orchestrated an incident at Bing Lee’s party so that Darcy would mistrust Jane’s love for Bing. Lizzie emphasizes that this “could have been cleared up by PEOPLE TALKING TO OTHER PEOPLE” (p. 349). Why do so many of the characters (especially Lizzie, a communications major) have such trouble communicating face-to-face? What do you think Lizzie learned about communicating from working on her vlog project and thesis?
12. George Wickham uses both William and Gigi Darcy for their money, but knows the Bennets do not have any money to spare. What, then, is his motivation for manipulating Lydia and posting a sex tape of her? And why does he create the site with a countdown, rather than having the video immediately available?
13. Because of the communal nature of online video blogging, Lizzie has many followers and regularly gets comments on her video entries. Think about and share your thoughts on how the Internet (and the thousands of fans who give Lizzie feedback) plays an essential role in this story. Is there an equivalent to this communal network in Austen’s story?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Watch a few YouTube videos at The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (or, if you already have, re-watch a few of your favorites), and discuss how well the book pairs with the videos. Did you picture the characters differently? Did you enjoy reading or watching the story more? How do the experiences differ?
2. Try making your own video, by yourself or with a friend. Share your experience with the group: Talk about your favorite aspect of making a video blog or about any difficulties you had.
3. This novel places Jane Austen’s famous characters in the modern world. Other adaptations incorporate zombies or envision the characters’ futures. If you were going to write an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, how would you frame your story? Share, discuss, and try your hand at writing a chapter or two!
A Conversation with Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
Why did you decide to write a novel?
Kate: We knew fairly early on that our version of Lizzie Bennet was pretty special and had a really interesting worldview. While Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice is a timeless character, she is reacting to circumstances very much from her own time period—marriage being the only option for women, entailed estates, etc. In modernizing Lizzie, we found that her story on the videos also translated well to book form – after all, we still read. Plus, there were so many things that we only talked about on the videos and didn’t get to experience, due to the limitations of the video format. In a book, there are no such limitations. We could be with Lizzie at the Gibson wedding, walking around San Francisco, or simply enduring her mother’s histrionics about her single daughters. The book let us fill out the world in a way that the web videos—and their meager budget—didn’t allow us to do.
Because the storyline already existed, what was your writing process like? Was it difficult to coordinate the story with the videos? Were you surprised at any difficulties or opportunities along the way?
Kate: The first thing I did when figuring out how to write this book was to create a really big, really detailed calendar of events. Where Lizzie was, when her videos posted, the movements of all the other characters, what party fell on what date and what happened there, who tweeted what when . . . It’s an enormous and scary-looking color-coded document. It was incredibly important that the book fit within everything we had already established. Even though I knew the story very well from having worked on the show, I found myself referring to the calendar time and again as I tried to navigate where character moments should go. On the one hand, it forced me to conform. On the other, it forced me to get creative.
This timeless story works well in our modern times, with a few minor adjustments. What from the original story was the most difficult to contemporize?
Bernie: We wanted to modernize the independent woman. Back in the 1800s there weren’t a lot of options in careers, and it was important to us that career choices be an underlying current to every major decision that our characters make. We didn’t want it to be about finding the guy/marrying the rich guy. Kate: One specific stumbling block I remember coming across when we were writing the series was the time it takes for information to get from one place to another. In Pride and Prejudice, if you needed to tell someone something, you had to write a letter, and at least a week would pass before it reached its destination. Now, everything can be found out at once, thanks to smartphones.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries uses social media to give all of the characters a voice. How do you think this adds to the viewer’s experience of the story?
Bernie: The social media expansions adds three unique experiences to our interpretation of this story: 1. When the show was running, you (as a viewer) could talk to the characters and they could talk back to you. You could be a part of their stories. 2. You could explore more about the characters through their social media destinations; for example, Jane’s Pinterest gives you a lot of insight into what she’s going through during her arc. 3. You could experience the story from another character’s point of view. What was Lydia doing when Lizzie and Jane are at Netherfield? What was Georgiana Darcy going through before she finally meets Lizzie? We have that for you; it exists for you to discover and explore.
Discuss your decision to make the book analogous to the videos, rather than an omnisciently narrated book like Pride and Prejudice.
Kate: While Pride and Prejudice is in third person, it sticks pretty strongly to Elizabeth’s POV. There are only a couple of scenes that aren’t told from her perspective. As she discovers new information, the audience discovers it as well. If Jane Austen were writing today, I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried a first-person narrative. Lizzie’s voice is so strong in the videos, carrying it over to the book was simply common sense. This is her story. She has to be the one to tell it.
How is the process of writing a work like this, one integrated into so many platforms, different from the usual TV episode or novel?
Kate: From my perspective, it meant we had a lot more data to work with. (Hence, the big calendar.) Every tweet sent, every photo posted on Pinterest, every comment on the videos had to be treated like canon. It can be mind-boggling trying to keep everything straight and to navigate a story between it all. Bernie: It definitely goes both ways. If you write that a character says they’re going to have lunch with someone, there’s an obligation to acknowledge and verify that event through social media. We have to be hyper-aware of everything the characters are doing at any given time.
What did you learn from this experience that may help you in similar endeavors in the future?
Kate: Personally, I learned that when you tell a good story, it can be told many different ways. And instead of competing, they can complement one another. Bernie: I learned to embrace alternate points of view. It goes back to the adage that everyone is the hero of their own story, even the antagonists. Yes, characters need to serve plot points, but why are they there—what are they really like as people?
Do you have any plans to expand The Lizzie Bennet Diaries any further in other media? If not, would you like to?
Bernie: This story is timeless and has been told across so many platforms, but with all the multi-platform content that we do, I would love to try to make an app.
What’s next for Lizzie, Lydia, Jane, Darcy, and Bing?
Kate: What’s next in terms of their stories? Well, perhaps you’ll get to find out in the near-ish future . . . Bernie: #spoilers